Helping Christians think about an ethic of race

November 23, 2020

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our primer series on Christians ethics where a respected leader and thinker recommends and gives a summary overview of a book that helps orient readers to a certain aspect of ethics and philosophy. This series is designed to equip the local church to engage foundational texts of Christian ethics. Find the entire series here

Generally speaking, in the field of Christian ethics, conversations about race and the issues surrounding race historically have either been excluded, discussed briefly, or have vaguely affirmed the universality of the human race, equal image-bearing, and the sinfulness of racism—though progress is being made. This reality is puzzling considering the affect race has on American life and the church. 

Recently, the topic of race and the issue of racism has been a source of heightened tension, division, and fractured relationships among evangelical Christians in America since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death acted as gasoline to an already simmering fire within black Americans who for generations have experienced and witnessed forms of racism and injustice. Additionally, with the frequent deaths of black and brown men and women at the hands of law enforcement, and vigilante civilians, the dividing lines across ethnicities are growing wider and thicker. This is to say nothing of the rhetoric toward and treatment of immigrants in the United States.

For the last six years, a growing desire for a better Christian ethic on race has led to numerous genuine efforts of repentance and learning. Additionally, there is a growing interest in sociological concepts as tools in racial reconciliation, and Christians find themselves debating whether these are legitimate frameworks to utilize when considering issues related to race. Living in the tension of their new humanity but grappling with the realities of their ethnicities, many Christians are asking: what is the church’s response to our racial climate?

Understanding racial reconciliation

D.A. Horton’s 2019 book, Intensional: Kingdom Ethnicity in a Divided World, provides Christians with an introductory-level answer to the question above. He invites Christians to think deeply about race, ethnicity, and the biblical response to our racially-tense climate. Horton, convinced of the misguided nature and inadequacy of racial reconciliation, points Christians to “ethnic conciliation” through an appeal to the de esperanza (the hope) of the gospel.

Though many churches and Christians stress “racial reconciliation,” Horton offers ethnic conciliation as a better alternative for two reasons. First, he reasons, racial implies that there is more than one race of people, which the Bible does not affirm. Additionally, the modern concept of race is a social construct and is not a biblical concept. Instead, the Bible demonstrates that God intentionally created humans with different ethnicities.

Second, reconciliation implies a return to an original state or condition. Horton argues “conciliation” points toward an original state of freedom from animosity, distrust, and hostility. Our only knowledge of conciliation comes from Genesis 1 and 2 where Adam and Eve lived with God in a relationship free from these things. Americans have never lived without the animosity, distrust, and hostility caused by racism and therefore have not experienced true conciliation with one another. Therefore, we cannot be (re)conciled. Instead, the right focus for Christians is ethnic conciliation, which involves both the recognition of ethnicity as God-given and the call to remove that which fractures the relationship between different ethnic groups. 

The blueprint for ethnic conciliation derives from the progressive revelation of redemption. The story of redemption unfolds in a fourfold narrative: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. In the revelation of God’s redemption, the hope of humanity lies in the person and work of Christ, who bears the punishment of sin by dying on the cross and provides hope for humanity in the midst of a fallen world. As a result, born-again believers experience fellowship with God free from animosity, distrust, and hostility. Our reconciliation to God not only provides Christians with a blueprint for ethnic conciliation but also empowers Christians to live with their fellow brethren.

Practical ways to pursue diversity

Horton offers practical ways for Christians to walk toward ethnic conciliation through the development of compassionate character and communication that is manifest in visible compassion toward our communities (p. 52). Compassionate character aims at dismantling animosity, which involves removing exclusionary patterns in our relationship building, allowing believers to engage in meaningful crossethnic relationships. Compassionate communication, which takes aim at distrust, involves speaking truth with a gracious and loving tongue about those outside our own ethnic group. Finally, our compassion must be visible toward those in our communities, in ways that lead toward the dismantling of hostility between ethnicities. 

Unfortunately, partiality and “colorblind Christianity” often hinder the compassion necessary for ethnic conciliation. Partiality is the superficial evaluation of another person’s worth and judgement that proceeds true knowledge of a person and their story (p. 69). Racism is partiality. Horton writes, “When we rename racism as this sin, we as God’s people will begin to leverage His character and His Word as our standard for living” (p. 85). In light of the writings of Paul and James, the proper response to partiality includes adherence to God’s Word, true repentance, and actively including those from other ethnic groups.

Though repentance of the mind and heart is the starting place, the Church must also look for tangible ways to repent. Horton asserts, “The fruits of repentance are not just heartfelt apologies but action steps providing healing for victims, new guardrails for internal policies, and an awareness of how deeply people have been hurt” (p. 115). Citing texts such as Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, and Psalm 79:8-9, and referencing the act of repentance of Richard J. Cellini, Horton presents both biblical and present-day examples of active repentance.

Several actions are suggested for active repentance. Among them is that Christians must remove their presuppositions about those on the margins of society (Matt. 9:36), examine their engagement with the marginalized to ensure that an awareness of the existence and needs of the marginalized is present (Matt. 9:35), and combine the first two actions with fervent prayer (Matt. 9:37-38). 

In addition, Horton asserts, “If we are ever going to be healed and whole, our communities need Jesus-centered, multiethnic, multicultural, and multigenerational-led churches modeling long-lasting engagement, intersecting six avenues of life with the gospel, mobilizing others to do the same” (p. 138). 

Many of Horton’s practical strategies will collide with Christian faith that validates itself through political affiliation. Ultimately, though, Christians must be concerned with kingdom ethics where the social and spiritual commands of Jesus inform everything we do (Matt. 4:19; 5:3-12, 17, 37; 7:12; John 3:3-8; 14:15) (p. 175). And this is because the strategies for ethnic conciliation prioritize the kingdom of God above all else. 

Sherelle Ducksworth

Sherelle Ducksworth is a Sociology instructor at Louisburg College and a Ph.D. student in Systematic Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her research interests included Trinitarian theology, theological anthropology, and liberation theology with particular attention to the theology of Herman Bavinck, Delores Williams, Rosemary Radford Reuther, and John Webster. She … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24